Fire: the Good and the Bad

Wildland-Urban Interface

Wildland/UrbanInterface2More and more people choose to live outside of town and communities sprawl to rural areas. Urban and forest areas are side-by-side or intermixed and are known as the "wildland-urban interface" (WUI) -- where communities and wildlands meet.

A campaign known as FIREWISE relates to protecting your home from wildfire, especially if you live in the WUI.

Here are some steps to protect your home.

  • Create an area (30 feet) of defensible space around your home that is "lean, clean, and green" such as a driveway, green grass or garden.
  • Avoid vegetation in your yard that "stair-steps" or makes a "ladder" from the surrounding forest to your home. This means vegetation that gets increasingly taller as it nears your home.
  • Clearly display your home address so firefighters can find you.
  • Stack firewood away from your home.
  • Recycle household trash and compost yard debris. Most wildfires in the south are caused by careless burning of household trash and yard debris.
  • Place ashes from outdoor grills and fireplaces in metal buckets to let them cool. After cooling, dump and turn them into your garden.
  • Keep gutters and roofs clean because flaming debris from a wildfire will easily ignite pine straw, leaves, and twigs.
  • Use fire resistant building materials when building or remodeling your home, especially on the roof.
  • Make sure there is turn around space in your driveway for large structural firefighting trucks.
  • Have at least two exits to the outside from every room and at least two ground level doors as safety exits.

For more information about the WUI, visit:

Prescribed Fire

Drip torchScientists prescribe fire so that the woods are safer and healthier places. Fire is a natural occurrence in southern pine forests. For years, professional foresters suppressed all wildfires. Over time, foresters recognized that the ecosystems became unbalanced with considerable brush and understory vegetation. Being out of balance when wildfires strike, these fire-dependent forests burn with intensity, threatening nearby homes and destroying forests.

Professionals intentionally ignite prescribed fires when weather conditions allow the fire to burn slow and "cool" rather than hot and fast. The Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests have used prescribed fire as the primary method to achieve forest health and management objects since the 1950s.

Prescribed fire makes the forests safer because it reduces the risk of severe wildfires.

Low prescribed burnPrescribed fire decreases the amount of pine needles, bushes and small dead limbs that wildfires use for fuel. Burning these fuels releases elements into the soil, making nitrogen more available for plant use.

Prescribed fire improves wildlife habitat, making the forest healthier.

Prescribed fire eliminates shrubs and other competing undergrowth, thereby restoring the natural grassy and open habitat of the southern pine forests that is required by several native species including the Eastern wild turkey, the flatwoods salamander, and the white-tailed deer.

Prescribed fire also creates habitat desired by the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species, and restores the natural southern pine ecosystem.

Plants need prescribed fire to survive. Many wildflowers and grasses, like the smooth coneflower and the endangered American chaffseed, flourish in full sun. While these flowers and grasses are dormant, prescribed burning reduces woody shrubs that compete with wildflowers and tree seedlings for sunshine and space.

Prescribed fire helps the young grass-stage of the longleaf pine. Brown-spot disease infected needles around the bud are burned and competition is reduced, thus allowing it to become a fast-growing, tall, healthy sapling.


Wildfire torching treesWildfire is unplanned, unwanted, and damaging fire. Wildfires can be started by lightning striking a tree, a spark arrester lighting dry grass, a cigarette carelessly being tossed out a window, or a pile of burning brush getting out of control or left unattended. Wildfires can burn very hot, harm people, burn property, and destroy wildlife and plant habitat. Wildfires are expensive to suppress and control. Every year millions of taxpayers' dollars are spent to fight wildfires and to assist homeowners and landowners after wildfire strikes.
"Only you can prevent wildfires." To be Smokey's helper, you need always to be careful with matches, cigarettes, and fireworks; always make sure a campfire or debris-burning fire is dead out; and report wildfires immediately.


Arson is fire that is intentionally set. Woods arson is the primary cause of wildfires in South Carolina. Arson is against the law. Just like wildfires, arson fires can burn very hot, harm people, burn property, and destroy wildlife and plant habitat. Arsonists are arrested, charged, and may spend time in jail for their criminal acts. The arsonist also may have to pay the cost of fighting the fire. Just like wildfires, incendiary fires cost the taxpayers a lot of money for the suppression efforts and for the prevention and investigation efforts. If you have information about woods arson fires, please call
1-800-92ARSON. A reward may be offered.

Smokey, only you